A crisis isn't a blessing. It's a snowglobe.

One of my pet peeves is when people say cancer (or some other major crisis) is a blessing. Anyone who has lived through a crisis knows it does not feel like a blessing. It’s stressful, saddening, enraging, frightening, and so many other feelings that most people would not typically describe as blessings.

A crisis is more like a snow globe. A snow globe is a clear liquid-filled ball with a scene in it and with lots of confetti that looks like snow inside. When you shake it up, the “snow” floats all around and, as it comes down, it settles in a different location.

A crisis, like a snow globe, shakes up your life, and all the aspects of your life-your work, your friendships, your family relationships, your identity, your medical and mental health all go in the air and then settle a little differently than they were before.

As you recover, you begin to put the pieces of your life back together. You will have choices about where you put all these pieces. You can try to put them back where they were before, though some things will be different or broken or not fit together like they did before. Or you can decide to put them back in a different order, which might be better than before, or it might not feel quite right either.

As a result, after a major life crisis has passed, many people are surprised to find that they do not feel relieved or transformed, they may feel worse, and not like themselves. That’s often the case when people are trying to put the pieces of their lives back the way they were before. The more transformative way to approach it is to take the time to decide what the best way is to take these pieces and make one’s life whole again. The new configurations may be different than you ever would have planned, but it might also be a beautiful and rewarding use of all your different pieces.

For this reason, some people’s lives do become better after a major crisis. It’s not that the crisis itself was a blessing, but that the introspection and readjustment of priorities that followed generated the positive change. Pain can be quite transformative, because it can force you to take stock of all the different pieces of your life. You can decide whether the pieces of your life are being put together in the way that serves you optimally. It’s like when you move—no one likes all the work involved in moving, but in the process of packing and unpacking, you manage to slough off things you no longer need, and you rearrange the items on a fresh canvas.